Environmental group says more manatees will die if Florida’s seagrass mitigation bill passes
Hurricane Irma left manatees stranded on dry land.

irma manatees
The proposed bill follows the deadliest year for manatees in Florida history.

Leaders of one of the country’s oldest marine conservation groups say a bill being considered by lawmakers would make it easier for developers to destroy seagrass that Florida’s manatees depend upon for survival.

Ocean Conservancy is urging Florida lawmakers to oppose the legislation. The bills (SB 198 and HB 349) would establish seagrass mitigation banks. That would allow a developer seeking permits for a project that would destroy seagrass to buy credits in a mitigation bank to cover the cost of seagrass restoration somewhere else. Theoretically, one acre destroyed would mean one acre built in another location.

But there are no guarantees, and seagrass restoration projects don’t have a great success rate. J.P. Brooker, Ocean Conservancy’s director of Florida conservation, said that’s especially concerning for Florida’s manatee population that depends on seagrasses for sustenance.

“Manatees are dying in record numbers in Florida, in part because we are losing so much seagrass and they are starving to death,” Brooker said. “Florida should be protecting and conserving established seagrass beds by improving water quality and planting new seagrasses.”

The House bill, sponsored by Merritt Island Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois, is nearly identical to a bill he tried to pass in 2021. That year also happened to be the deadliest year for manatees in recorded history. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported more than 1,000 manatees died last year. That’s double the five-year average. And most of those deaths were due to starvation from lost seagrasses.

“Seagrass mitigation banks are an unproven tool for curtailing the negative effects of development,” Brooker said. “They should not be viewed as conservation or restoration measures. They are solely an effort to offset the damage to seagrass caused by development.”

Florida has more than 2 million acres of seagrass along its coast and in its estuaries. But those numbers have been shrinking. Ocean Conservancy reports the Indian River Lagoon has lost 58% of its seagrass since 2009. Sarasota Bay has lost 18% over the last three years and Tampa Bay is down 12% since 2012. Manatees and other marine life depend on seagrass for food, and it also helps reduce erosion and improve water quality.

Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, whose district includes parts of the Indian River Lagoon, said in a December committee meeting that seagrass restoration efforts are too risky and too often fail for a mitigation bank to be counted on.

“Whether it’s a 75% failure rate as one speaker said or a 63% failure rate as another speaker said, I don’t care if it’s a 10% failure rate,” Fine said. “Because there is a 100% chance that initial acre of seagrass is going to have been destroyed. With a certainty of destruction (balanced by) a possibility of success. My county and my area, we can’t have that.”

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]


9 comments

  • Ocean Joe

    January 25, 2022 at 4:56 pm

    The environment, the REAL reason people want to move here or vacation here, has always been treated like a red-headed step child by the GOP.
    In-shore sea grass lures in manatees where tourists can see them, promotes water clarity, removes nitrogen from water, supports many types of sea life from lobsters and crabs to providing habitat for small fish, and tragically, the state senator who represents the Florida Keys is pushing the senate version. Disgraceful. Ana Rodriguez, get on a boat and look over the side, or better yet, get in the water and look at what your special interest legislation will help destroy.

  • politics

    January 25, 2022 at 5:18 pm

    The place is doomed like the Hudson river it will be 20 years or so the gulf waters are also in danger.of being stagnant soup either way overcrowding boats and oil waste or sewage dumping.No more wells soon ground is poisoned.

  • sunny fla

    January 25, 2022 at 5:28 pm

    The place is doomed The gulf is doomed. Wild life is doomed Well water is doomed boating is doomed fishing is doomed parking is doomed. The waters are going to turn into one sewage pool.Lucky for climate change but then again it is more tree chopping

  • TJC

    January 26, 2022 at 8:52 am

    It doesn’t look good overall for Florida when developers have most Republican lawmakers by the balls, but Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine may just set them straight on this one. Let’s hope so.

  • M. Soares

    January 27, 2022 at 7:12 am

    It’s tragic that the sea life that’s so unique to Florida is treated so cruelly & carelessly by Florida’s state politicians – and just for some extra “u.t.t.” cash from the developers!! Thank goodness the Floridians have Mr. Fine hopefully straightening out this terrible situation, who is apparently unbribe-able!

  • M. Soares

    January 27, 2022 at 8:31 am

    Also, thanks to Daniel Figueroa IV for this very informative article. I live in SoCal & we definitely have our share of issues, like the similar challenge with the indigenous wildlife’s habitat near Palos Verdes (I believe), so hopefully Randy Fine could call the California Department of Fish & Wildlife &/or any of the non-profits like Save the Whales (CA), Greenpeace (based in Washington DC), Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Oceanic Preservation Society, American Cetacean Society, etc. So please, Mr. Figueroa, pass on this information to Randy Fine. Thank you!

  • Michael Faussett

    January 27, 2022 at 11:56 am

    This is very sad to read about us humans is destroying everything i am tired of hearing about animals suffering because us humans are so greedy it is time to stop and thank about after things beside us. Animals have the right to live. Stop being greed and start taking what we only need.

  • Scott

    January 30, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    This is a good article.

  • Lawrence

    February 3, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    Just pave the whole state and get it over with. There is no limit on the greed of some people.

Comments are closed.


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